Wednesday, May 22, 2013

DVD/Blu-Ray Review: 'Nightfall'

Chow Hin Yeung’s thriller Nightfall, now available on Blu-ray and DVD, begins with a moment of extreme violence, so brutal as to be legitimately uncomfortable to watch. This highly stylized pre-credits scene informs the rest of the film, imbuing the remainder with a sinister undertone, with the potential for fierce explosions of violence.

What follows in Nightfall, Yeung’s follow up to his crime drama Murderer, is a long, gradual build, a continual ramping up of tension and subversion of expectations. As you watch you can’t help but mark similarities between other recent entries into the Asian cinema market. This is the thematic and tonal younger cousin of Kim Ji-woon’s A Bittersweet Life, and the clever, well wrought shift in perspective calls to mind Wong Ching-po’s Revenge: A Love Story. Still, despite obvious points of comparison, Nightfall stands on its own as a gritty modern noir.

Eugene Wang (Nick Cheung, The Stool Pigeon), the key player in the earlier prison bathroom assault, is released from incarceration after 20 years for a rape and murder he claims he didn’t commit. George Lam (Simon Yam, Ip Man, Election) is a detective, haunted, as everyone in Nightfall is by a tragic back-story. He’s also a drunk, and super protective father, despite being a workaholic and rarely around to supervise his young daughter.

When Han Tsui (Michael Wong, Once a Thief), a celebrated composer and Hong Kong celebrity and creepy father, turns up murdered in a particularly vicious manner, the crime proves to be a tightly wound mystery. As the layers are peeled back one by one, unveiling new truths, the chaos brings Wang, Lam, and Tsui’s teenage daughter Zoe (Janice Man), a piano prodigy, into the same orbit.

Nothing in Nightfall is as it initially appears on the surface, no one is who you think, and what you initially anticipate, invariably turns out to be false. Misdirection is the order of the day, and as the story progresses, as the quiet, deliberate pace unfolds, the script peels back layers of the mystery, lies, obsession, and revenge. This isn’t as much about the “who” as it is about the “why”.

Though there are alterations in point of view that, for lack of a better word, qualify as twists, the script, from director Yeung and To Chi-long, takes its time setting the stage, laying the groundwork for the turns so that each is earned and believable. In a day and age where jagged twist endings are almost a prerequisite, it’s nice to see one that is actually the result of good script writing instead of a filmmaker trying to wow an audience with this crazy thing.

While it won’t blow your mind, and is far from a great film, Nightfall is a strong, entertaining watch. It’s punctuated with some nice action pieces, including a badass fight contained in a glass-bottomed gondola car. Beautifully filmed, with a dreamy classical score that includes the likes of Chopin, and a stilted chess metaphor, the whole package comes across as a bit smug and self-important, and it so desperately wants to be something more significant than a modern Hong Kong crime story. You get the feeling that the filmmakers don’t think that is a worthy enough endeavor.

The performances are fine, but nothing spectacular. Cheung is strong as the tormented mute parolee; he may be out for revenge, but he also attempting to atone for his past, his motivations are initially unclear. At this point in the game Yam can play this character in his sleep, and though he isn’t bad, his turn comes across as pedestrian and par for the course.

The picture on the new Blu-ray from Well Go USA looks crisp and clean, and is a nice delivery system for Ardy Lam’s (Once Upon a Time in China) sweeping cinematography. He films the brightly colored chaos of urban Hong Kong in a way that makes the city look unreal, and he lush rural exteriors pop on screen. The disc also comes with a trailer, though the only other bonus is a making of feature.

A fairly standard entry into this realm, the extra does clock in at more than 47 minutes, so it goes into great depth. Like the movie, you won’t be blown away, but it is a solid offering, and interesting enough to listen to the actors talk about their motivations and how they approached various aspects of filming Nightfall.

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